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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

December 13, 2013  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

St. Pete is third venue for exhibit on poet, heroine


Hannah Senesh’s 1939 Hungarian passport with visa to prestate Israel, one of the items in the new exhibit. 
Courtesy the Museum of Jewish Heritage Hannah Senesh’s 1939 Hungarian passport with visa to prestate Israel, one of the items in the new exhibit. Courtesy the Museum of Jewish Heritage “There are people whose glorious memory continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living… These lights are particularly br ight when the night is dark. They light the way.”

Hannah Senesh, a young woman who took part in a secret British mission so that she might also help Jews in Europe, was one of those people. She was also the talented poet who wrote those words that would, along with her diary, be read by millions of people around the world.

Beginning Saturday, Jan. 11, the Florida Holocaust Museum invites the public to get to know this remarkable individual through her own words and personal artifacts when it opens “Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh.”

Curated and circulated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, this is the first major museum exhibit about her life – one that has inspired books, plays, and films.


A re-creation of Hannah Senesh’s home at Kibbutz Sedot Yam. 
Photos courtesy the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust A re-creation of Hannah Senesh’s home at Kibbutz Sedot Yam. Photos courtesy the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust The exhibit has been shown in New York and Chicago. St. Petersburg will be its last stop, with the exhibit on view here through April 27.

Elizabeth Gelman, executive director of the museum, said “We feel privileged to have this opportunity to tell Hannah’s story. Her life and idealism will resonate with younger audiences who will be inspired by her courage and her will to change the world. Hannah’s eloquent poetry and prose will move visitors of all ages. Finally, Hannah’s story serves as an example of Jewish response to the Holocaust – bold initiative and action against all odds.”

Known throughout the world as the author of the hymn Eli, Eli, Senesh came of age as a promising poet in cosmopolitan Budapest. In 1939, she immigrated to the pre-state Israel and two years later became a pioneering kibbutznik. In 1943, she volunteered to participate in a secret British mission to parachute behind enemy lines, hoping she might at the same time aid Hungary’s embattled Jews. She was caught, and executed the following year at the age of 23. Almost immediately, Senesh became a national hero to the fledgling Jewish community in Israel.


Hannah Senesh at her home in Budapest, Hungary, prior to moving to what was then known as Palestine at the age of 18. Hannah Senesh at her home in Budapest, Hungary, prior to moving to what was then known as Palestine at the age of 18. The exhibition includes audio-visual displays and a film by Roberta Grossman, director of Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh. An award-winning filmmaker with a passion for history and social justice, Grossman has written and produced more than 40 hours of documentary television. Her work has been shown on A&E, PBS, and AMC, and her most recent work, Hava Nagila (The Movie) has been a Jewish film festival favorite including earlier this year here in Tampa Bay.

Senesh’s nephews, Eitan and David Senesh, helped make the exhibit possible by entrusting the Museum of Jewish Heritage with her poems and letters.

“As an Israeli who was born, educated and raised in the sovereign state of Israel, I believe that Hannah’s life story, the values she embodied, and her way of life should be brought to the attention of young people throughout the world,” Eitan Senesh said. “I believe that by presenting the materials she created and left for us, we can achieve this goal.”

He will be a special guest at the opening reception for the exhibit on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. RSVPs are required at (727) 820- 0100. The event is free to museum members; general admission is $9 per person.

Highlights of the exhibit

The exhibit sheds light on the real life of Senesh, known as the “Israeli Joan of Arc.”

It starts in cosmopolitan Budapest of the 1920s and 1930s, exploring her home life, education at a private Protestant secondary school, and religious beliefs as part of a bourgeois Jewish family. It shows how in 1938 and 1939 upon facing institutionalized anti-Semitism, she become an ardent Zionist and left Budapest for Israel two weeks after Germany’s invasion of Poland.

The exhibit follows Senesh to the Agricultural School of Young Women in Nahalal and portrays her life there and at Kibbutz Sedot Yam through the use of her own words, including the text of her famous 1942 poem Halikha L’Kesariya (A Walk to Caesarea). Known worldwide as Eli, Eli, the poem was set to music and has become a virtual second anthem in Israel.

Senesh’s mission, imprisonment, trial and execution are narrated through the words of her acquaintances, family, and friends who were witness to the tragic events during the war.

In the summer of 1943, wanting to help in the effort to defeat the Nazis and to do something for the Jewish remnant in Europe, Senesh accepted an invitation to join a unit being trained to parachute into occupied Europe. There, she and the other Palestinian-Jewish volunteers would carry out a double mission. For the British, she would help set up escape routes for downed Allied air crews who had evaded capture; for the Haganah – Israel’s Jewish underground army – she would organize Jews and help them to escape.

Hannah and two colleagues parachuted into Yugoslavia in March 1944. She crossed into Hungary in early June, but was immediately captured by the Hungarian authorities. She was imprisoned for six months and was brutally interrogated.

While in prison, she taught her fellow prisoners Hebrew and inspired them with stories of life in Israel. Her mother was arrested in an attempt to extract information from Hannah, but Hannah refused to give her captors the information they sought. She was tried for treason and executed by firing squad on Nov. 7, 1944 at the age of 23.

The exhibit concludes with a section describing Hannah’s legacy.

Featured items include:

An edition of Kis Szenesek Lapja (newspaper of the Little Seneshes) produced in 1929 by Hannah and her brother Giora (Gyuri).

Senesh’s Hungarian passport with its visa to Palestine.

The portable typewriter she brought along as well as letters she typed to her mother.

The suitcase in which Senesh stored her notebooks and other possessions when she departed on the mission.

The last photo of Senesh and her brother Giora (Gyuri) taken in Tel Aviv the day she departed on her mission.

* * *

The museum is located at 55 5th St. S. in downtown St. Petersburg. For more information on hours and admission, call (727) 820- 0100 or go to the museum website at flholocaustmuseum.org.


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